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A Chevron gas station sign is seen in Del Mar, California, in this April 25, 2013 file photo. (Mike Blake/REUTERS)
A Chevron gas station sign is seen in Del Mar, California, in this April 25, 2013 file photo. (Mike Blake/REUTERS)

Ecuadoreans face off against Chevron in an Ontario court Add to ...

Lawyers for a group of Ecuadorean villagers and oil giant Chevron Corp. squared off in court on Thursday in the latest skirmish of a seemingly endless legal war that has already cost tens of millions of dollars to wage and has billions more at stake.

The Ecuadoreans are trying to collect on a $9.5-billion (U.S.) award – one of the largest ever to arise out of environmental destruction – they won against Chevron in Ecuador. Because Chevron has no assets in the South American country, they have turned to courts in several other countries in an effort to have the judgment enforced.

At issue during this week’s proceedings before Ontario Superior Court Justice Glenn Hainey, essentially, are the parameters of a future trial at which the plaintiffs hope to force Chevron Canada – headquartered in Mississauga – to cough up the money its parent owes them.

One of the pretrial motions heard over the past three days was the plaintiffs’ call on Justice Hainey to strike Chevron’s statement of defence on the grounds the issues have already been thrashed out in Ecuador.

“If we are going to respect the foreign courts like we would expect them to respect our courts, you don’t relitigate stuff,” lawyer Alan Lenczner, who represents the plaintiffs, said outside court. The defence countered it would be unfair to deny it a chance to make a full defence, especially since it contends the judgment in Ecuador was obtained fraudulently.

It might seem like a “blinding statement of the obvious,” Chevron lawyer Larry Lowenstein told Justice Hainey, but a foreign judgment arising out of “bribery and corruption” cannot stand. At least two U.S. courts have bought the fraud argument but that battle continues.

The defence also spent hours arguing the case should be thrown out on the grounds that Chevron Canada and Chevron Corp. are two entirely separate entities – that there is no legal basis to try to hold the Canadian subsidiary, which had nothing to do with the disaster in Ecuador, accountable.

Mr. Lenczner who represents the plaintiffs, told Justice Hainey earlier in the week that the notion that the two companies are completely separate was nonsense, arguing Chevron Canada is a “cash cow” that sends billions to its controlling parent.

The case arose because Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, dumped billions of litres of toxic oil-drilling waters into hundreds of open-air pits.

Activists say the affected area sees, among other problems, the highest rates of childhood leukemia in the country – 130-per-cent more frequent cancer deaths than elsewhere, and 150-per-cent higher rates of miscarriages.

The suit was filed in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadoreans. It was 2013 when the $9.5-billion judgment was finalized, setting off a new fight to collect.

The Ecuadoreans have also turned to courts in Brazil and Argentina. The Canadian end of the fight has already been to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled last year the case can proceed in an Ontario court.

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